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Coronavirus Alters Summer Clinical Experiences For UW's Spokane Medical Students

Courtesy of UW School of Medicine

Summer vacation has come early for many students.

For medical students, especially those who have just finished their first years, summers are anything but vacations.

Here's how the coronavirus may affect the summer routines for Spokane students from the University of Washington’s medical school.

During the summers after their first years, UW medical students have several options. Go overseas and work on global health projects. Create and carry out their own research projects. Or go to a small town somewhere in the West and spend a month working in a clinical setting.

That’s where students get their first real opportunities to do ‘hands-on’ exams with patients. But Covid has complicated things. The medical school plans to minimize the physical contact students have with patients.

“Not being able to listen to the heart or look at the sore throat, those are real limitations that affect the choices of medicine’s diagnosis, therapies that are going to be employed," said Dr. John McCarthy, the UW School of Medicine’s assistant dean for rural programs. He says students will learn to put more emphasis on interviewing patients and discovering their medical histories.

“We’re going to train them in terms of how to do digital or telephonic visits, video visits, so that they can have exposure to what I think is going to be a stable force in medicine going forward," McCarthy said.

For some physicians that will be a teaching challenge because they themselves are new to the technology. That includes Dr. Geoff Jones at Newport Hospital and Health Services, in northeast Washington. He says he’s only begun doing virtual exams during this pandemic and he’ll teach students about that. But he’s not completely dropping the traditional curriculum.

“We’re expecting them to see patients. We’re expecting them to wear PPE as they should if they were practicing members of the health care team and we are not just anticipating that they will be doing telehealth," Jones said.

Because most of these students have grown up with technology, learning how to master a video exam may be a snap. And their teachers, like John McCarthy, will learn right along with them.

“Students teach us as preceptors things all the time and so I look forward to hearing from the students what recommendations they’re facing," he said.

UW medical students will begin fanning out to their rural clinical assignments later this month.